Tag Archives: Amsterdam

Finding

I write a lot of things down. In journals, when I feel disciplined; in random notebooks I buy because I like the covers; on loose scraps of paper and receipts and whatever was at hand when a thought struck. The paradox of the note-keeping is that I do it so I won’t forget an idea, an impression, or the fact that we’re out of toilet paper– but despite the distrust of my memory, and an overall lack of organizational system, I rarely forget the pages themselves.

“Have you seen,” I’ll be asking Tim, “a yellow sticky?” 

“There are yellow stickies everywhere.”

“I know, but this one has a note on it of something I saw at Coffee Company. The other day it was by the cucumbers.”

So there was a piece of paper I knew went missing circa nine months ago. It was a sheet of A4 printer paper I’d pulled out of my bag and scrawled some notes on, on the last day we visited Amsterdam. I wanted those notes, to preserve the city as it was to me that day, and so that I could turn them into a blog post. I wanted the notes because—on what seemed like such an important occasion—I’d forgotten our camera; I remember realizing it as we walked to the train. It was a weekend day just before we moved, and structure was somewhat less than normal. By the time I thought to search for my paper, it seemed too late to track in the chaos a plain white sheet. I combed meticulously through stacks created after I gave away my desk to a friend, accompanied by a bottle of wine because anyone who took an object from our house that week also received a bottle we couldn’t take with us. (So did anyone who helped us move an object from our house.) The notes never surfaced, and my last guess (aside from being recycled) was that they’d been mixed into the folder of pages we left for the incoming tenant of our apartment. I could only hope I hadn’t written anything too embarrassing.

This morning, on the doorstep of 2015, I picked a book off the bookshelf that I wanted to give away. I’d started it months ago and lost interest. I thumbed through it and a paper slid out: white, soft, littered with my handwriting. And as I squinted at my own appalling scrawl, scenes sprang up so vividly I thought I could breathe their air.

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It had been tulip season, and from the train we saw the fields ablaze. The sun came out warm, I wrote, and Amsterdam was mobbed: throngs of tourists, tornadoes of pot smoke. We wandered down the Haarlemmerdijk taking in the usual sights: boats, bachelorettes, stylish Amsterdammers and a shirtless man drinking a beer by the canal. We stopped at Two for Joy, my favorite cafe, where I would often write when in Amsterdam. In honor of our last day, I touristed myself and bought one of the cafe’s logo espresso cups. The server couldn’t find one of the matching saucers new and asked if I would be OK with one that had been in use, taken from the drying rack of the cafe itself. I couldn’t have liked it more.

We continued to the Noordermarkt, bustling and sunny, where we sampled pears and bread. We spent fifteen minutes at a vendor of old postcards: places we have been, places we haven’t. I bought one of Delft, intending still to frame it. We lingered near street musicians; I watched a girl pass with Obama stickers on her Dutch bicycle. I want, I wrote, to remember this.

The last night we were in Amsterdam, we ate at a little Italian restaurant we’d visited several times before. Friendly, warm, gezellig, and neighborhood-feeling. The kind of place we always insisted we wouldn’t consume a whole bottle of wine, and then did. That night a man wandered in, one I could recognize right away as hoping to sell something. In cities all across Europe, we’ve been approached at restaurant tables while a man, smiling, wordless, seemingly always in a dark jacket, holds out a rose and waits until we become uncomfortable or say “no, thank you,” enough times. I have a complicated soft spot for these people, always curious what their lives are like and how much money you can really earn selling flowers table to table.

But this man didn’t have flowers. Or Kleenex, or cheap greeting cards, or any of the other variations we’d seen. He had a camera.

It was an old Polaroid, hanging around his neck, and as he approached our table he held it up, asking if we wanted a photo. I almost shook my head by default and then realized–yes. Yes, we want a picture; how perfect is this? I scooted around to the other side of the table, next to Tim, and the man snapped a single shot, waved it a little, and walked away with a few Euros before the image had even appeared.

By many definitions, it’s not the greatest photo. We weren’t dressed up; we look like we’d been out all day. I’m wearing a drab sweater and scarf. My hair is short; I can’t believe how much it’s grown. Tim sports his Euro-goatee, which got the razor shortly after. In front of us on the table are a half-eaten pizza and a wine glass. The image is framed in such a way that we could be anywhere—the main background is a boring white wall—but out the window behind my head you can make out bike wheels in the dark. Amsterdam.

As soon as I saw the photo I remember thinking it already looked old. The vintage style helps, but it was as if even in the moment I could feel that day slipping, belonging to a chapter that would close. Before months had elapsed we’d pick it up and say, “We look young,” or, “Do you remember when…”

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This December we brought a tree home on our car. This was quite the shift from previous years. We decorated with ornaments gathered from our travels, resulting in that wintry mix of joy and nostalgia. Over the holiday a relative told me that she checks my blog, but wondered why I hadn’t been writing. I’ve wondered that, too; all I’ve got is that there hasn’t been a lot to say. Closing a chapter is hard, and there are no notes you can find to help you through.

The best analogy I’ve had for the time since our move is that it has felt like someone has died, or like a relationship has ended. At first it was unbearably heavy; then gradually it lightened, but the loss will catch me off guard on any given day.

I didn’t make many resolutions for the new year, but most of the goals I’ve thought up involve writing. One is to use this space again, to talk about moving or travel or anyplace in between. Happy new year, and thanks for reading!

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Friday Fun: Rollende Keukens & Rijksmuseum

Looking up Museumplein toward the Rijksmuseum

Looking up Museumplein toward the Rijksmuseum

I had an appointment today that took me partway to Amsterdam, and decided to use the opportunity to go the rest of the way. I spent a couple hours working via my laptop at Two for Joy, and when I couldn’t stand not having lunch any more (Note: they have lunch. I was holding out.), I walked to the Westergasfabriek.

Earlier this week, my ears perked up when my husband’s officemate mentioned some sort of food festival in Amsterdam: Rollende Keukens (Rolling Kitchens). Four days. 13:00-23:00. A field full of gourmet-ish food trucks.

Yes.

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Arriving for a late lunch at 14:00, I was very happy and extremely hungry. A sea of food trucks sprawled before me: Converted VW buses. Campers. Airstream-type things. I couldn’t decide which way to walk first; nearly every stand made me curious. In mid-afternoon, there were people around, but it wasn’t very busy. I had a strong hunch this wouldn’t be the case in the evening.

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I caved first at a colorful stall called Dirty Duck, advertising several different duck delicacies. I had the kerrie, a little paper boat of rice, pickle, and tasty duck curry. I only made it about ten feet farther before stopping a second time, for patatas bravas at a strange wooden truck called De Pieper Mobiel (which Google translates to “The Beeper Mobile”?). The duck curry had been good, but these potatoes were delicious. When the woman ladled the gooey sauce on them, I thought: Oh, I will never eat all that. I cleaned the bowl, and I tasted those potatoes all afternoon (in a good way).

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I wandered around a little longer but was 1. full (the downside of being small) 2. concerned about the ambitious agenda I’d set for my day in the city, which included popping in to the Rijksmuseum. That adventure follows later. For now, let’s just say I returned to Rollende Keukens at 18:00, ready to eat some more.

It was obvious as I neared the park that for dinner, Rollende Keukens was going to be much busier. Groups of bikes and pedestrians were all drifting that way, clogging the crossings. Chairs and picnic tables that had been sparse at lunch were now packed. Live bands were playing on several stages. I walked in a different direction, and bought a vegetarian pita gyro. The stand advertised it as lekkere; the older guy in charge looked like he was Mediterranean and meant business; and the gyro was fantastic. Messy—but fantastic. (This was my favorite thing that I ate.)

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I wished I had friends along—this was a perfect group activity. I also admired the vibrant cacophony of style. Not only were the individual vendors aesthetically different, they had each brought their own tables and chairs—everything from hay bales to beanbags to traditional picnic benches. The only downside (other than not having a bottomless stomach) was the weather. Today was chilly, cloudy, and very windy. Periodically I would have to turn my head as dust blew in my face (or food).

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I was next drawn by the Gastrovan. Their chalkboard menu advertised homemade ginger ale with lime and mint. My eyes must have lit up when I read it, because the friendly guy started right up a conversation with me and I decided to order. While he made the drink, I may have misheard him, but if not he was telling me something about the soul of ginger. After that (this part I know is right), he told me how he and his friends spent six months in the van, driving around the Netherlands, France, and Spain, seeking great recipes and learning to cook. It turned out they were three young guys from Delft. He told me they have a cookbook coming out later this summer, chronicling their adventures.

The ginger ale was, in fact, delicious… but at €3 / glass, I thought the portions could have been a bit more generous. (Be warned: a food festival like this is a place where you can go through more money than you’re realizing, as most things seemed to be priced €4/5/6. It doesn’t seem like much… until you eat five things.) The Gastrovan guy told me that so far the day had been very slow for them—Thursday (Hemelvaart, a holiday here) had been so busy, they sold out of food and closed early. (“Today,” he told me, “I took a nap in the van.”)

I got on the train smelling like (wood) smoke—which was lovely. And in between having both lunch and dinner at the festival, I visited the Rijksmuseum.

The Rijksmuseum is one of Amsterdam’s top museums, with a substantial collection of Dutch Masters. Until this April, it had been closed or partially open for ten years while the building underwent a modernization and renovation. The buzz around the reopening was that the re-envisioned space was beautiful (and they have famous art, too). To be honest, the Dutch Golden Age isn’t my favorite period in art history (I prefer the van Gogh Museum down the street). But I was curious about the Rijksmuseum in all its redesigned glory.

I knew it was likely the museum would be crowded today. But as I have a Museumkaart (which is a fantastic investment—easily pays for itself in a year), I didn’t expect to wait in a queue. Following the late lunch, I hopped the 3 tram to Museumplein. It was 15:30 when I arrived, and I knew the museum closes at 17:00, but since I wasn’t going to be paying €15, that was fine with me.

Then I met a massive queue, nearly reaching the IAmsterdam letters. One unfortunate and kind girl was directing traffic, and it was hard not to be annoyed when she told me that Museumkaart holders also had to wait in this line, in this instance—because the museum was at capacity, and they could only let people in as people exited. “Thirty minutes,” she assured me. I walked in the door at 16:15, and only because a lot of people in front of me bailed, probably deciding the massive entrance fee wasn’t worth it for less than an hour.

Please hang on while I rant: I am not a fan of overcrowded museums. I nearly had a panic attack in the Vatican. The Louvre was quite peaceful in the “less popular” galleries, but mobbed wherever one of the “top ten” pieces was displayed. If someone tells you the Rijksmuseum is at capacity—you can be certain they mean it.

It is so hard to enjoy a piece of art, especially a relatively small one like the Mona Lisa (Louvre) or Vermeer’s Milkmaid (Rijksmuseum) while you are packed in, getting shoved by dozens of people, being reminded by signs (Louvre) to watch your wallet because pickpockets target these spots, and–for the love–having every visitor older than age seven holding up their cell phone / fancy camera / camera to take a photo of the painting.

I seriously, seriously prefer when photography is disallowed inside museums. Take away that distraction and I will gladly buy a postcard of the painting I admire. Both the Louvre and the Rijksmuseum allow photography, which honestly surprises me. The Rijksmuseum didn’t even seem to be actively preventing flash photography. I waited patiently to get before The Milkmaid, only to have people reaching all around my face holding out their iPhones to snap a picture.

In a word: NO.

Still [end rant], at 16:15 I was inside.

So. You’re in the Rijksmuseum. You’ve only got 45 minutes until closing. You grab a map. The place is huge. What do you make a beeline to see? Vermeer? Rembrandt? van Gogh?

Obviously, the library.

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I wanted to see this library, and it didn’t disappoint. Quiet and dignified but not stuffy, exuding that mysterious unread-old-texts appeal, including the fancifully obligatory spiral staircase and multi-tiered bookcases rising to the ceiling. A few students were scattered at the tables working, and a friendly staff member answered a couple of my questions. (Yes, you can request to read the collection inside the library, catalogue online.) It was around this time that I decided to renew my Museumkaart for next year.

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Satisfied and still with some time remaining, I went to see van Gogh (priority no. 2) (phone-camera hotspot) and then Vermeer (ditto). I wandered through a few rooms stopping briefly at things that caught my eye. My initial impression was that the renovation is lovely—I’d like to return on a very dull Tuesday morning… if there is such a thing.

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